DAB briefing – presumption of contact/unsupervised contact & recourse to public funds

To Members of the House of Lords
We urge you to SUPPORT Amendment 130: Proceedings under the Children Act (Lord Rosser, Baroness Gardner of Parkes, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, Baroness Meacher) to change the presumption of contact when there has been domestic abuse.  

The presumption of contact pervades the whole court process and is used by abusive fathers to insist on unsupervised access and even residence of their children, with deeply harmful consequences. The Harm Review recognised this, and confirmed that this presumption:   “. . . has led to a ‘pro contact culture’ reflected in case law and promoted by all professionals . . .  [which] results in a pattern of minimisation and disbelief of allegations of domestic abuse and child sexual abuse.” “[T]he dominance of contact [is seen] as excluding other welfare considerations, including the child’s need for protection from abuse, or the child’s wishes and feelings [our emphasis].”  

The presumption of contact results in children’s wishes being ignored or dismissed as a sign of “parental alienation.It is based on the assumption that mothers are liars, that children have no experiences or will of their own, and that safety is not an issue. The Review found a pattern of bias as court professionals gave weight to the views of any child who wanted contact with a father, but dismissed the views of those who did not. Children are forced into contact with domestic abuse perpetrators despite clearly saying they are afraid of them and do not want to see them.  Children who do not want to see their fathers are being put into foster care or given to other family members to force them into contact – as the London Victims Commissioner said: this is state sanctioned child abuse.  

We PROPOSE a change to the amendment: where it states that the evidence of domestic abuse to be provided should be according to regulation 33 (2) of the Civil Legal Aid (procedure) Regulations 2012, this should be changed to refer to the much more recent regulations here.  The crucial issue is the range of agencies/professionals who can provide evidence of domestic abuse, andthe time which is considered relevant (now increased from two to five years). Since it is well known that only a small percentage of domestic abuse victims report the violence they are suffering to any official body or even to their GP or health professional, it is very important to include evidence provided by a domestic violence support service, as the current legal aid domestic abuse guidelines specify  

Unsupervised contact: we urge you to SUPPORT amendment 130A (Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb):
This amendment would prohibit unsupervised contact NOT ONLY if the (parent) had been charged with a domestic abuse offence or was involved in ongoing criminal proceedings for a domestic abuse offence, BUT ALSO pending a fact-finding hearing or has been found to have committed domestic abuse in a previous fact-finding hearing, or has a criminal conviction for a domestic abuse offence.  

The issue of unsupervised contact is crucial as it is contact that enables abusers to continue their reign of terror over women and children.  It is not in the interest of children to have contact with a father who abuses them or their mother.  Such contact is terrifying and potentially lethal.  The father who murdered Claire Throssell’s two sons by setting fire to an attic he had lured them into was able to do so because he had unsupervised contact.  Virtually all the children in the Women’s Aid 19 Child Homicides were murdered in the course of unsupervised contact (in one or two cases the child/ren actually lived with their father).  

If there is to be contact, there should be a presumption of supervised contact, especially when court proceedings are just beginning and findings on domestic abuse have not been made.   

Recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors
We urge you to SUPPORT amendment 148 & amendment 151.
This would end the exclusion of migrant and disabled women from protection on the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession and all amendments for essential resources for women and children to escape violence.  

We urge you to SUPPORT amendment 173 (Baroness Gale)on theDuty of the Secretary of State to take account of gender.   The Domestic Abuse Bill must not be allowed to pass without acknowledging that victims of domestic abuse are overwhelmingly women and their attackers men. A gender-neutral law would undermine potential benefits of the Bill for women’s and children’s safety. It could make women’s access to justice and protection even more remote, as men could falsely call the police on women, take our children and get us evicted, with state backing. What a travesty for a Domestic Abuse Bill!  

One example of how gender neutrality hides evidence about what’s actually happening is that we don’t know the extent to which fathers and step fathers are responsible for killing children.  These figures are not dis-aggregated by gender of perpetrator, allowing the misogynist lobby to misleadingly claim that mothers kill their children as often as fathers do.